‘West Side Story’ at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2015 By: Kristen Weyer Source: NY Theatre Guide

West Side Story is one of the most widely acclaimed musicals of all time.  The vision of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins with a book by Arthur Laurents, it first opened on Broadway in 1957.  This classic also marked Broadway’s introduction to the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim.  Westchester Broadway Theatre’s last production of West Side Story in 1998 was directed and choreographed by Barry McNabb, who returns in both capacities for this production.

West Side Story is a poignant, heartbreaking look at the reality of hatred and rivalry, and its consequences.

While most may be familiar with the plot of this show, for those of you who aren’t, here is what you need to know.  Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, stick it in 1950’s Manhattan, add musical numbers and exchange the Montagues and Capulets for rival gangs, and there you have it.  The Polish-American gang, The Jets, are in a turf war with the Puerto Rican Sharks.  When Maria, the sister of the lead Shark, and Tony, the founder of The Jets, fall for one another, well … you can imagine what kind of trouble ensues.  Though one major difference between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story is the body count at the end of the performance.

The cast of this production is wonderful.  Carly Evans as Maria will blow you away.  Not only is she stunningly beautiful, but her dancing is lovely and her opera-worthy voice will leave you breathlessly waiting to hear her next song.  Zach Trimmer is everything you could want in Tony.  Handsome, a talented dancer, and possessing a strong, clear voice with marvelous tone and resonance.  He is immediately likable, making the tragedy all the more poignant.  Lead Shark Bernardo is played by Brandon Contreras who provides a suave performance oozing Latin charm and panther-like movement.  Adam Soniak portrays Riff, Tony’s best friend and pseudo-leader of The Jets, with a pleasing voice and obvious dance skills.  Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita is played by the lovely Allison Thomas Lee with sensuality, rhythm and a fantastic voice.  All of the members of the “gangs” and the ensemble were excellent dancers and performers.  The extended dance sequences were executed beautifully, and the harmonies came through to heighten the emotion of each song.  The rest of The Jets and their Girls are portrayed by: Anthony Johnson, Kevin Santos, Scott Shedenhelm, Erik Magnus, Tyler John Logan, Sara Brophy, Victoria Casillo, Maggie McGrath and Melanie Wildman.  The Sharks and their Girls are: Xavier Reyes, Michael Graceffa, Alexander Gil Cruz, Emilio Ramos, Arianna Rosario, Sarah Gawron and Kelsey Orem.  The cast also includes the talents of Mike Boland as Doc/Officer Krupke and Ed Romanoff as Schrank/Glad Hand.

A well-designed set by Steven Loftus, and historically accurate costumes by Derek Lockwood greatly helped to enhance the setting and feel of the show.  Additionally, the wonderful lighting design by Andrew Gmoser further aided and increased the emotion of key scenes to perfection.  The orchestra under direction of Ryan Edward Wise was phenomenal.  They performed this iconic and difficult score with apparent ease and beautiful execution.  The only unfortunate parts of the evening were the lack of consistency in sound quality and the sometimes overly drawn-out dance sequences.  Some of the lyrics and dialogue were just impossible to understand at points, and this was especially disappointing in such songs as the classic “America.”  Deviating from Robbins’ original choreography, Director/Choreographer Barry McNabb stated that “the choreography is my own.”  This isn’t necessarily a problem, in fact, it can be quite exciting, and for the most part it was.  However, while intricate and mostly very enjoyable, not all of the rather lengthy numbers actually helped to advance the action of the plot line.  This caused a feeling of mild tedium and confusion at a few moments.

West Side Story is a poignant, heartbreaking look at the reality of hatred and rivalry and its consequences.  So if you’re into the dark, not-everything-is-a-fairy-tale kind of thing, then you’ll love it!  If you’re looking for a happy, feel-good ending this is not the show for you.  Be forewarned.  However, even if depressing isn’t really your thing, if you go into it knowing what to expect, you can enjoy the stunning music, the wonderful dancing and the classic tale of West Side Story. Besides, the pleasure of listening to Carly Evans is worth almost any plot line, trust me.